Downtown Walnut Cove business leaders said they generally liked the concept of re-imagining the town’s streetscape, but offered some concerns about how how changes to a center turn lane on Main Street may impact how they do business.
The feedback from business owners came during a public information meeting at the Walnut Cove Public Library last week where Eric Woolridge of Destination by Design presented two plans for redoing the town’s main street — one which would remove the center lane to create angled, 45-degree parking and another which would replace the center lane with tree filled medians to provide more pedestrian space.
Woolridge said his firm had been working with the town for over two years and had heard a number of suggestions from residents on ways to revitalize the downtown area.
“We heard a variety of things over and over,” he said. “One of the needs was for downtown improvements, particularly on the public sector side. The idea is that they had to make some improvements and with that we could spur some private sector improvements. There was also a lot of concern about historic buildings and a need for small business investment.”
He said re-envisioning the Walnut Cove streetscape could help draw shoppers and businesses to the downtown area.
“One of the main things we focus on is the pedestrian triangle,” he said.”We talk about the need for wide sidewalks, and curb extensions that puts the pedestrian in a nice safe place to cross the street with the shortest distance.”
Woolridge said both plans for a new streetscape start with a roundabout at the entryway to town.
“It slows traffic and it signals you are coming into a different place while still keeping traffic flowing,” he said.
The first streetscape plan would eliminate the town’s center turn lane and instead create angled parking adding approximately 25 parking spaces to the town’s existing 75-85 street parking spaces.
“You are not changing the curb to curb, you are changing the striping of the lanes so it is not a huge investment,” said Woolridge. “You are just changing the functionality. This changes the driving experience and the pedestrian experience and improves safety.”
Woolridge said the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) had expressed some concerns with the plan, particularly with how it would slow traffic on Hwy. 311, so his firm developed the second plan which retains the existing parallel parking but replaces the center lane in places with decorative medians.
But Durwood Dunlap questioned how removing the center lane would impact deliveries to local businesses, noting that for many businesses trucks currently have to park in the center lane because they are not able to easily access the rear of the buildings.
“There are some issues there,” he said, “that will have to be considered for unloading freight. If you narrow it down you are going to have to do something.”
Kim Ferrell said the town already has problems with trucks running over flower planters at times with the existing traffic pattern, questioning plans to line the streets with trees in both streetscape plans.
“You could not put trees on the corners because they would run over them,” she said. “It would be wonderful if we could get the trucks to go another way.”
Jerry Rutlidge questioned how much tourist traffic the town could attract, even if it invested in new a vision of the downtown area.
“We have been talking about the tourist dollar for Stokes County since the 70s,” he said. “I don’t think the tourists have made a huge bump in Stokes County.”
But Ferrell said the majority of traffic in her store is from out-of-town visitors.
“I have people who come to the store from all over the country,” she said. “I think you would be really surprised.”
“We think there is a missed opportunity in this particular economy and environment,” added Woolridge. “A lot of research bears that out.”
Pattie Dunlap asked how the plans for the downtown area would address dilapidated buildings.
“There are buildings in town that are owned by a particular family that are falling down and are an eyesore,” she said.
Walnut Cove Town Manager Bobby Miller said the town had tried a number of strategies to address those properties over the years.
“To get them functional we are probably a generation away,” he said, “but we have made some progress on some of them. The board is taking a more conservative approach to it. I have always had a good relationship with them, but whether that translates to getting them functional again we will see.”
Woolridge said it was important to get feedback on all of these issues before preparing a final draft plan to present to the Board of Commissioners in the early spring.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.